I’ve always been the centre of attention all my life. It was nothing new; right from primary school, to secondary school and even to university, people always stared at me. And no, I’m not gloriously handsome; I just can’t walk well—I use crutches to aid my walking. My legs are bent at the knees. Anywhere I went, people would stare at me with pity, or disgust, or something else I couldn’t place. Don’t get me wrong, I am not sad about my condition, neither am I looking for pity. I’m merely starting like this so you would understand the story I’m about to tell; the most hilarious day of my entire stay in Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.
First of all, my stay in Unizik (that’s the popular name of my alma mater) was almost always eventful. But I’m telling this particular story because of the misconceptions people have about disabled people. When I was coming to Awka for the first time, many people expressed their concerns about how I would cope with the rigors of school; they offered a myriad of advices and suggestions about how I would cope. Some even opined that I came from my house in Onitsha (can you believe that?), others advised my parents to find a maid for me, the rest just told me to make friends with those that would help me out.
Suffice it to say that I found a way to survive, I had my tough moments, but I was able to surmount them. I also had a lot of help from friends, most especially, Loveth, my best friend. I mentioned Loveth because she was of great help to me, both academically and physically, often helping me with my oftentimes heavy bag.
Another reason I mentioned her was that she was present on the most hilarious day of my Unizik studentship, the day that opened my eyes to the way people saw us, the disabled ones.
We were coming back from a stressful lecture-filled day, the sun as usual was showing us its might. There’s something about the sun in Unizik, it’s from another galaxy, it shone with a ferocity that made you want to tear it out of the sky and douse it in water. With the way it shone, I wondered if we weren’t a few minutes walk away from hell.
Back to my story. While we were in a bus heading to the gate called Perm Site Gate, she told me that she wanted to eat tiger nuts and that I would be the one to give her the money for it. Normally, it rankled me whenever a girl asks me for money. But she was different, she had helped me countless times that buying something for her was the least I could do for her. Yet I joked that immediately I dropped at the gate, I would jump on the nearest motorcycle and head home. She informed me that she was actually coming to my place, and so I couldn’t escape it either way. We went back and forth like that till we arrived at the gate.
I went to the place where motorcycle riders usually waited for those who needed their services. I gave her one hundred naira when she informed me that she wanted to buy tiger nuts of seventy naira. I now squatted in front of the stalls by the gate and waited for my change. Shortly, she came back and gave me ten naira and told me that she was coming back with the remaining twenty naira.
I was still looking in her direction and beckoning on her to hurry as my skin was almost being roasted by the fiery sun. The next thing I heard was, “Take, take nah! You don’t want to take?”
I turned when I heard the voice, and saw a twenty naira being thrust at me. I looked up to see the person, but the glare of the sun on my eyes prevented me from seeing her face. Then when it was obvious that either I didn’t want to take the money, or I wasn’t understanding what was happening, she angrily left. As she was leaving, I turned and saw Loveth coming back with my change. She had seen the whole scene play out, and as I stared at the girl’s back, she burst out laughing.
It was her laughter that helped me to piece the whole thing together. The girl had mistaken my for a beggar because of the way I was squatting with my crutches and also because she probably saw Loveth giving me a ten naira note. As the realization dawned on me, I let out an uncontrolled guffaw, which seemed to fuel the laughter of Loveth the more.
Meanwhile, the people who owned the stalls I was in front of also understood what had happened and they too couldn’t control the laughter that escaped from their bellies. As I was about to leave and board a motorcycle, they kept on apologizing on behalf of the girl who had mistaken me for a beggar. Of course, I didn’t see it as anything to be sad or angry about, and I waved it off, but they kept on apologizing profusely.
When I came back to my lodge, I recounted the whole episode to my friends and another wave of laughter ensued. My best friend, Josh even brought twenty naira and wanted to re-enact the whole scene, but laughter bouts didn’t allow him to go through with it.
Well, there you have it. The most hilarious day of my Unizik life. And a bitter truth about how people see those with disabilities. I’m not angry at the girl, not at all. My only regret was that I didn’t get to at least see the girl’s face. Maybe by now, we would be friends, who knows?